Friday, 25 April 2008

Fuel Shortage

Its amazing how quickly things can go wrong. The strike action at Grangemouth was given a "don't panic" response from the First Minister who claimed that there were "ample and substantial" fuel stocks that would last until May.

Aye right. Trying buying anything other than premium unleaded and a newspaper in a lot of garages and you'll be disappointed. Stocks have gone dry in many places already.

The political spin on this has already begun of course. Unionist commentators are suggesting that Westminster can use this crisis to wrong foot the nationalists by sending up plenty of supplies from England and keeping us going, thereby demonstrating that Scotland is better off within the support mechanism of the Union. The nationalists, some would suggest, on the other hand are sitting waiting for it to go badly wrong and claiming it is a reserved matter and there was nothing they could do, citing that they would have handled the crisis much better in an independent Scotland.

Sadly, it already has gone badly wrong. Some garage forecourts decided to shove their prices through the roof to maximise profits. Garages have run dry and people are starting to get agitated. England may have plenty of fuel, but the fact is that the infrastructure to get it up here in a hurry appears to be non existent. I am told that for all their many petrol stations, Morissons only have four tankers, which is plenty normally, but not able to cut the mustard in times like these.

Its amazing that a two day strike not only threatens to bring Scotland to a standstill, it is also seen by many of the politically inclined as a commentary on the state of the Union. For those of us like myself that prefer the Union to Nationalism, we could really have hoped for a considerable fleet of tankers heading across the border to bring us supplies at the first hint of trouble. I say we could have hoped for that, but with a Westminster Government burdened by various other crises such as the credit crunch and teachers strikes, perhaps we should just have expected this.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

I told you so......

After what was a very positive Neighbourhood Services Committee meeting last week, I predicted it wouldn't last. I was right.

Last night's Infrastructure Services Committee was just a joke. It started at 4pm and finished at 8.45pm. The opposition wanted to halt at 7pm to go for a meal as one of them is diabetic (the diabetic had gone over each report line by line and then claimed he had no idea the meeting would last so long). We offered a recess of 20 minutes to allow him to eat something, but he said it had to be a proper meal in a restaurant. On top of that they wanted to stop altogether and come back the next day! We decided to carry on and it went to the vote which we won. Later, they wanted to stop again, but we carried on. Afterwards, I drove to Edinburgh getting there at around 11pm.

The one line that summed the meeting up for me was by an SNP Councillor who stood up and said "Cllr Millar, you are sitting there with your mouth open, do you have a disability?" 'Nuff said really.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Committee

We had Neighbourhood Services Committee on Thursday night. Even with a relatively short agenda of only 16 (pretty bland and uncontentious) reports to go through, it still lasted over two hours.

Having said that, it was a positive meeting. The business was conducted with due diligence, but was also peppered with good natured, well crafted, political point scoring.

This was actually what I had thought the council would be like when I was elected, and I'm sorry that not only has it taken a year to get to this stage, but also the fact that the temperament of the meeting may just have been a one off. Given the agenda for the next Neighbourhood Services meeting, I suspect it will be another 'blood up the walls' job.

I also had another meeting about Seafest and we organised a crane to lift the longships in and out of the water. A local boat-builder is going to build us a mock longhsip to burn at night and we are also looking for sponsors to buy the wood for it.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Armour

It's been a while since I put on any of my armour, but I'm getting more enthusiastic about it with the Viking event looking more and more likely. I have commissioned a new Norman helm which will arrive from the armourer in time for August and I have ordered small plates which I will thread together to make 'lamellar' armour to fit over my chain mail.

I have sensible reasons for doing this. The last time I took part in combat wearing armour, it was against a group of people from the west coast. All in all, I was in a pretty good situation. I had a full harness of 15th century armour on and the guy next to me was wearing my other full armour. As we charged across the field, gaining momentum as we went, I slipped on the wet grass and went my length. Now you may have seen films where knights who have been knocked down cannot get up again because of the weight of their armour. This is a myth, with well articulated armour, its pretty easy to do, even easier once you are used to wearing it. I have found that it only becomes more difficult when you have a group of Glaswegians standing on you and hitting you with sticks.

Another time, I was invited to attend a museum open day in armour and give talks on medieval combat. Having been strapped into the armour, my so called friends covered me in tropical fish fridge magnets, which I was unable to remove. How we laughed.

Anyway, below are pictures of me in armour from three different periods. The top one is 16th century, the middle one 15th century and the bottom one early 14th century.



Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Vikings





Well, negotiations are continuing to bring the Vikings back to Arbroath, and we have had contact from a group in England who want to come up for the event too.

It will be a lot of hard work, but well worth it. We have had contact from a group in England who would like to come up to take part, as well as a local re-enactment group. We are planning on having living history displays, combat displays as well as allowing members of the public to have a sail in the two longships too.

The climax of course will be the torchlit procession at night followed by the burning of a longship. This bit attracted around 10,000 people last time and was a great success.

I'm going to invest in heavier armour to go over my chain mail and a new helmet as the combat got quite heavy going last time at one point. All in all though, its a great event and I'm really looking forward to it.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Tartan Week Again (sorry)

According to the Scotland on Sunday, the Americans are less than impressed with proposals for Tartan Week.

I had heard rumours a few weeks ago that the organisers in New York and elsewhere in America were unhappy that the Scottish Govt had interfered with the celebration, especially the proposal to change the name to Scotland Week. I understand they felt that the Scots had been heavy handed in the way they dealt with the organisers, especially as some of them felt that the event was being 'hijacked' by the Scots. It was a blunder to organise a major event on the same night as the St Andrews' Society Ball.

I'm not surprised they aren't happy, although I agree that the event should provide more focus on attracting inward investment from the USA, this need not mean that the 'party element' should be ditched altogether. It just needs to be more balanced.

Tartan Week offers the opportunity to tempt Americans, not just Americans of Scottish descent to Scotland. In fact, according to VisitScotland, in 2006, no fewer than 475,000 trips to Scotland came from the USA. Even better, the Americans who came here spent no less than 361 million pounds. Easily outstripping second place Germany who spent 123million pounds. Not just that, but Americans seem genuinely interested in our history. I found this out for myself as a manager for Historic Scotland, and I found them to be very pleasant people to chat to.

Personally, I'd be looking at working more closely with those who have put so much effort into sustaining and developing Tartan Week in America for a decade rather than simply trying to take it over as seems to be the case. Of course the event isn't perfect, but a bit more co-operation and understanding could clearly make it a lot better, and hopefully more productive.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Nicked!

Well, talking of scammers, it seems some scamp has made off with £150,000 of Scottish Conservative funds according to the Mail on Sunday. Which is quite a lot when, according to the Mail, the party raises some £350,000 per year.

A source is quoted as saying "The accounting system is not the most robust, which meant no one noticed until it was too late."

Classic. "no-one noticed until it was too late". Why not? How did this happen? Will anyone be held accountable for it other than the (alleged) thief? I should bloody hope so. Stealing this amount of cash makes a pure mockery of fund raising efforts on the ground, only for it be nicked because the accounting system is "not the most robust".

I very much hope the new Party Chairman takes this situation as an opportunity to appraise staff and systems to identify anything else that is not "robust" and deal with it accordingly.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Scammers Again

Received the e-mail below, today from one Philip Gore-Randall. According to the e-mail, Mr Gore-Randall is seeking to import some Asian made products to his target market, but is unable to travel because of his work in London and he lacks certain business strategies.

Well, a couple of things come to my suspicious mind:

First of all, the real Mr Gore-Randall is a bona fide Executive Director of HBOS. I'd be surprised if he was unfamilliar about strategies, despite the banking worlds recent hand in the credit crunch.

Secondly, I doubt 'Mr Gore Randall' would e-mail me using a yahoo e-mail address. More glaringly, I'm surprised that the Executive Director of HBOS has such a poor command of English, as well as his lack of a basic understanding about the situation in the UK as we don't (as yet) have to import/export items between Scotland and England. Perhaps he thought he was e-mailing someone farther afield, however the 'Scottish Parliament' e-mail address should have been a clue.

I could of course go and source some Asian made items for 'Mr Gore-Randall'. I need only nip over to Princess St and bulk buy a load Jimmy Hats, tartan rugs, 'Scottish' dolls, mugs and fridge magnets. But I'm sure these are not the goods he is seeking.

We can laugh at the idiocy of this scammer, but the fact is that if he or she was a bit more sophisticated then more people may fall for this. The fact that there is a daily deluge of stuff like this suggests that enough people do fall for it to make it worthwhile. That means that there are a lot of, undoubtedly vulnerable, individuals who stand to lose a lot of whatever they have because there are others who would take advantage of them.

I'm not sure what level of effort is made to curtail the activities of these scammers, but I hope that whenever they are caught, they are suitably punished.



Greetings,

It's my pleasure to introduce myself to you via this message; I am in need of an export-based business personal who will be able to assist me to import some Asian made products to my target market. Due to the nature of my work in London, I cannot travel with respect to this importation and also I am not familiar with Asian market, thus this is the reason why i am contacting you to seek for your interest in assisting me as my direct partner to help me reach to the main manufactures in your country and purchase this goods and ship to my target market.

I am Mr. Philip Gore, from United Kingdom. I am not into trading business, but either is working with the Civil Department HBOS PLC.

http://www.hbosplc.com/abouthbos/directors_biogs.asp in the UK,

But recently I became interested in the importation of some products, as I was made to understand that your country is very good in the production of those products. Hence this is the reason why I have contacted you to seek for your consent to assist me run this transaction. I am not opportune to carry out this business myself because of time factor and also I lack some business strategies especially when it gets to international transactions such as this, but the primary reason is because of the nature of my job here in UK since it will not allow me the time to run this transaction.

Hence at both of our agreement, I will need your services on the following.
1: Products sourcing,
2: Price negotiation with manufacturers,
3: Product purchasing, inspection and 4: Shipments to my destination.

I will forward the modality of this business and also send to you the list and specifications of the goods to be purchased and supplied to me as well as the money to be used for the purchase and shipments once you provide me with the quotations, as we will discuss personal on how much I will settle you as your agency commission.

Best Regards
Philip Gore-Randall

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Some Days..........

Yesterday started off badly. Having slept in a bit, I stumbled from my bed to the bathroom. As I locked the door, the handle of the bolt came off in my hand. The bolt itself is metal, but the handle is plastic.

I was therefore locked in. The door itself opens in the way, so putting my shoulder to it was not an option. After spending a not inconsiderable amount of time trying utilise any bathroom festoonery that I could lay my hands on to get out (including at one point, my toothbrush) I settled on the idea of tying a towel to the door handle and trying to pull the door open that way. I have to say that whoever screwed the bolt to the door frame was determined it should never come off. It was a credit to his or her work that it took quite so bloody long burst the lock.

Being even more late, I quickly got dressed and jumped in the car to go to a 9am meeting in Forfar. Had I leased the Audi A4 cabriolet that I was going to, I would have made much better time. Instead, having purchased a 1500cc Nissan Almerra, even with my foot to the floor, it seemed I was going no faster than the speed of an arthritic sloath carrying some heavy shopping. The time spent in the car was not wasted however. Oh no. I used it to concoct a variety of excuses as to why I was late. None of them involved me being locked in the bathroom.

I should have known something was up when I arrived at the council offices as it was so easy to get a parking space. When I got inside, I realised I was not actually late. I was early. A whole day early in fact.

I did some work and drove to Carnoustie for a meeting with Boss and a shop owner. When I got there, I discovered shop owner was accompanied by a Public Affairs officer. The same Public Affairs officer that I was engaged to up until last year.

Great.

Some days your the dog, other days your the lampost............

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Washington Post Article

I'm not going to comment on this article from the Washington Post, but it does make for very interesting reading after Tartan Week:

Scotland's Huey Long
By Tom Gallagher
April 7, 2008

After nearly a decade of self-government within the United Kingdom, Scotland has found a political leader determined to bypass the Westminster Parliament and promote its interests on the world stage.

Alex Salmond has led the Scottish government since last May and he has just completed a visit to the United States with the aim of familiarizing business and political leaders about separation from the rest of Great Britain to which his Scottish National Party is committed.

Last Monday, at Harvard, he insisted that under him Scotland was capable of turning into a new powerhouse capable of emulating Ireland"s economic renaissance and he repeated the message on visiting Capitol Hill later in the week.

Mr. Salmond is an articulate glad-handing populist who counts among his admirers Donald Trump but also the Iranian regime that recently declared through its ambassador in London that their joint hostility to "British imperialism" provided the basis for a solid partnership between Edinburgh and Tehran. Instead of disassociating his government from Iran"s abominable human-rights record, Mr. Salmond chose to condemn Britain"s continued role in Iraq and Afghanistan and promise to close down Britain"s large nuclear base in Scotland.

In his duel with the Labor Party for control of Scotland, Mr. Salmond is mobilizing different campaigning groups and minorities and promising them multicultural rights designed to sharpen an ethno-religious rather than a civic identity. He has courted radicals in the Muslim community which enjoys growing influence in Scotland"s largest city, Glasgow, a place hitherto numb to the independence message.

A young firebrand who has enthusiastically defended the idea of a global Islamic state and in February spoke on the same platform as the British leader of Hizb ut-Tahrir which rejects the democratic process and also calls for "an Islamic caliphate" is a close adviser to Mr. Salmond and stands a real chance of arriving in Westminster at the next election.

Mr. Salmond is fishing in the wilder waters of Muslim politics despite the potential damage to community relations in Glasgow, which narrowly averted disaster last June 30 when two Islamists tried to blow up the city"s airport. He rejects calls to treat Muslims as individual citizens rather than as an ill-defined religious community.

Polls show most Scots are troubled by the rise of radical Islam, but Mr. Salmond and his party are benefiting from the deep unpopularity of the Labor government. Despite being outnumbered by its opponents, the SNP is likely to see out its four-year term. It is busy picking strategic quarrels with London not only over British foreign and defense policy but also over the level of subsidy given to the state-dominated Scottish economy.

The Nationalists hope English voters, demoralized by troubling levels of social change which have led to rising crime and urban decay, will mount a backlash against Scottish demands and press for the end of the 300-year-old Union. Mr. Salmond knows a majority of Scots are far from convinced about the merits of independence, so are unlikely to back separation.


Scotland is not Ireland with a young, well-educated population and Europe"s lowest taxes. In many ways, its heavily subsidized economy and crumbling social fabric bears more comparison to the old East Germany.

But if the Labor Party, under the deeply unpopular Gordon Brown, collapses across Britain at the next election, the SNP could draw significantly closer to its objective.


Mr. Salmond is a brilliant electoral manager reminiscent of the late Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago in his taste for skullduggery and Louisiana's historic Huey Long in his repertoire of populist skills.

Mr. Salmond party is light on ideas and does not offer a coherent model for Scottish society in which the rights and duties of citizenship are clearly spelled out. There is no desire to reclaim and update the values of the 18th-century Scottish Enlightenment where a political contract was pioneered for governing society based on freedom of religious affiliation, neutrality of the public space, and the insistence of the superiority of civil laws over religiously-based ones.

The folksy Mr. Salmond may have charmed plenty of Americans who imagine Scotland to still be a great improving force in the world. But, under this slippery operator, the break-up of the United Kingdom would likely be a bleak moment for the West and a boon for the Iranian mullahs who cheer him on from Tehran.


Tom Gallagher is a Reagan-Fascell scholar at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Weekend/Tartan Day

I was in Edinburgh for the start of the weekend and Girlfriend took me out for dinner which was really nice.

Sunday morning I drove back to Arbroath for the Tartan Day celebrations. I watched the costumed procession up the High St, then went to the Abbey for the re-enactment, which was quite colourful. Some surreal aspects though with some monks wearing sports socks. After that, the Provost had a reception in the Abbey which was quite frankly poorly attended.

After that I went to the medieval village that had been set up around the corner which was manned by a couple of good quality re-enactment groups who had various demonstrations going on such as chain mail making (a surprisingly therapeutic past-time I have to say)and sword fighting.

The time has come to thoroughly re-examine our Tartan Week activities, refresh them and try and make them more appealling.

It is my young Nephew's seventh birthday today (his name is Arran, but I have always called him Damien after the character in the Omen films), so as an ever thoughtful uncle, I bought him a gift token. Although my sister only has three kids, they seem to have birthday's twice a year. Perhaps it just seems that way as I don't have any kids myself.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Tartan Week

Tartan Week is upon us once again with tomorrow being Tartan Day. On the 6th April 1320, 6 years after the battle of Bannockburn, a letter (later to be known as the Declaration of Arbroath) was sent from Arbroath Abbey to the Pope.

The Declaration itself has now reached almost mythical status, and quite rightly so. It is one of the most profound statements to emerge from Medieval Europe. In 1951, Lord Cooper stated "There is still much to be learned from that remarkable document. Read it again and judge for yourselves whether it does not deserve on its merits to be ranked as one of the masterpieces of political rhetoric of all time". Personally, I believe it should be, certainly if you consider that there are many who believe the Declaration of Arbroath influenced the American Declaration of Independence. An argument that has its critics, but also many supporters.

Let me first make my own 'declaration' of support for the principle of Tartan Week, but what does Tartan Week (or Scotland Week as it is becoming known) actually mean? Certainly it is a cause for celebration in parts of America and other countries, and we are led to believe that it is a substantial celebration too. Fantastic footage is beamed back to Scotland each year and it looks impressive.

That said, from contact I have had from some quarters in the USA, the impact of the event in America may not be quite what is claimed. Some reports suggest that as Tartan Week falls so soon after St Patricks day, many New Yorkers assume that the parade is linked to that. Still others have suggested that the (hugely expensive) 'Scottish Village' in Grand Central Station was of very limited success because it did not focus enough on its target audience. There are many anecdotal stories of Tartan Week being a bit less succesful in the USA than we are led to believe in Scotland. Whether this is the case or not, I don't know. Certainly Sir Sean Connery has taken his charity event "Dressed to Kilt" out of Tartan Week, and some of our political leaders have perhaps failed to convey the desired impression when wearing our national dress.



In Arbroath, the very place from where the Declaration was sent, there are lots of activities from a re-enactment of the signing, to haggis hurling. The 'Yomp' that I posted about earlier was part of Tartan Week this year and there are musical events and golf tournaments. There seems to have been some administrative glitches though, with some event start times wrongly sent to the press and the invitation for the Provost's reception after the re-enactment only arriving on some doorsteps on Wednesday, the same day by which we were supposed to RSVP. I know two people whose invitations only arrived on Friday. For an event that is happening on Sunday! Not good enough in my book.

All things considered though, I just don't think it captures the imagination in Scotland the way it really should. Perhaps we need to rethink the strategy on Tartan Week, and if a new strategy needs more investment to make the event more successful, then we should make that investment, because I really want Tartan week, and all it represents to be a major part of our calendar. An event that focuses attention on Scotland and all the many, many positive things it has to offer.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Grim Days

It has been a very grim couple of days in Arbroath.

On Tuesday morning two young girls were playing on the beach at Arbroath when they opened up a black bag they found lying about. Inside this was a Lidl shopping bag, and inside that was a severed human female head. Two severed hands were later found. You can read the story here.

The two kids were understandably shocked, horrified and traumatised by their find. I was interviewed on TV and expressed the shock of the community at news of this incident, sadness for the woman who lost her life and concern for the welfare of the two young girls who had made the grim discovery.

Next morning I got a very kind email from the Mum of the girls thanking me for what I had said, but also asking for help in dealing with what seemed to be quite aggressive media interest in her and her family.

I was glad to help in my small way. Perhaps one of the biggest lessons in all of this has come from the Mum herself who, despite being by no means wealthy, has consistently declined offers of money, holidays and gifts from the media, who quickly tracked her down and started to push business cards with financial offers for her story through her letterbox. Not only has she declined to take any money, amidst a very traumatic time for her and family, she still managed to express regret at the fate of the dead woman, and condolences for the womans family.

We have had to move her out of her house.

I was tempted to not post at all on this subject, but I think that amid all of the dreadful circumstances of this story, the mother of these children should be commended for her stance and her dignified behaviour.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Advice for Chaps

That most entertaining Blogger Clairwil has posted some excellent advice for chaps.